Sep 11, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Happy Friday! Who else can't wait to lock into NFL RedZone on Sunday? I might cry when Scott Hanson goes to his first quadruple-box. Football's back.

  • ⚾️ Texas World Series: MLB will play most of its postseason at neutral sites, and the Rangers' new ballpark, Globe Life Field, will host the World Series, per NYT.
  • 🏀 Size matters: The Lakers' size advantage overwhelmed the Rockets for much of Game 4, as L.A. seized control of the series with a 110-100 win. (LAL leads 3-1)
  • 🏒 Advantage, Stars: Alexander Radulov scored 31 seconds into overtime to give the Stars a 3-2 win over the Golden Knights. (DAL leads 2-1)

Today's word count: 1,579 words (6 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏈 College football's fall of uncertainty

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With all due respect to last weekend's slate of games, college football started in earnest last night when Miami beat UAB, 31-14, to kick off the Power 5 season.

  • Power 5: ACC and Big 12 begin this weekend; SEC starts on Sept. 26; Big Ten and Pac-12 are postponed until the spring.
  • Group of 5: The American, Sun Belt and C-USA began last week; the MAC and Mountain West are postponed until spring.

The state of play: Just to reiterate a line you've maybe heard once or twice by now — this season's going to be pretty weird.

  • 54 of 130 FBS Division-I teams won't be taking the field this fall.
  • Notre Dame, famously one of the seven FBS Independents, has temporarily joined the ACC.
  • Conference scheduling: Most seasons begin with a handful of non-conference, tune-up games, but nearly every game this year will be played against a conference foe.
  • Testing: Players and coaches will get tested roughly three times a week — far more than the average student, per WSJ's Laine Higgins (subscription) — though some schools are withholding that data, citing student privacy laws.
  • Fans: 33 schools are allowing at least some fans from the get-go; but, as with the NFL, that number could change as the season goes on.

Between the lines: The uncertainty surrounding certain aspects of the season is shocking.

  • For example, the Big 12 is the only conference with actual guidelines on what will cause a game to be postponed (and they're pretty weak). Other leagues seem content to play it by ear.
  • "I have no idea what the requisites are to play or not play a game," said Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente. "No clue. Nobody knows to my knowledge. I don't know who makes the call."

What to watch: The Big Ten is facing mounting pressure to play as early as October, and there's potentially "game-changing" news out of the Pac-12.

  • Big Ten: Ohio State coach Ryan Day released a statement Thursday criticizing the lack of communication from the league, and James Franklin voiced his frustration on ESPN radio.
  • Pac-12: A new partnership with Quidel Corporation will give Pac-12 campuses access to daily testing by the end of September, two months ahead of previous estimates. Will that speed up their timeline? How soon can the Big Ten and others gain access to daily testing?
2. 🏈 College football: Top teams, top players
Data: BetOnline; Table: Axios Visuals

Top teams: Alabama and Clemson remain the teams to beat. They've both played in four of the six CFP national championship games, with two wins each, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

  • Nine teams in the AP top 25 aren't playing this fall: No. 2 Ohio State, No. 7 Penn State, No. 9 Oregon, No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 16 Michigan, No. 17 USC, No. 19 Minnesota, No. 22 Utah and No. 24 Iowa.
  • The College Football Playoff is set for January and most past participants are playing this fall. In fact, Oregon, Ohio State, Michigan State and Washington are the only teams in postponed conferences who've earned a CFP berth.

Top players: ESPN's 26-man preseason All-America team is led by Alabama, with six players selected, followed by Clemson and LSU, each with two.

  • Heisman favorites: Nine of the top 10 are QBs, which makes sense given only three non-QBs have won this century (two if you remove Reggie Bush).

Saturday's slate (ranked teams):

  • 12pm ET: Syracuse at No. 18 UNC (ACCN)
  • 12pm: Louisiana at No. 23 Iowa State (ESPN)
  • 2:30pm: Duke at No. 10 Notre Dame (NBC)
  • 7pm: Missouri State at No. 5 Oklahoma
  • 7:30pm: No. 1 Clemson at Wake Forest (ABC)
  • 8pm: UTEP at No. 14 Texas (Longhorn Network)

Go deeper:

3. 📸 NFL opener: Scenes from Kansas City
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Patrick Mahomes threw three touchdowns, rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran for 138 yards and a score, and the Chiefs began their title defense with a 34-20 win over the Texans in front of a socially distanced crowd of about 17,000.

  • Chiefs: Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill each caught TD passes from Mahomes, who led Kansas City to its 10th straight win.
  • Texans: Deshaun Watson had two scores (one passing, one running), but faced relentless pressure and was intercepted once. David Johnson was a bright spot, running for 77 yards and the opening TD.
Photo: Jamie Squire

The Texans remained in the locker room for the national anthem, while the Chiefs stood on the sideline. Shortly before kickoff, both teams linked arms for a moment of silence dedicated to the fight for equality. Fans booed.

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In a muted celebration, the Chiefs unveiled their Super Bowl banner and presented the Lombardi Trophy to their fans.

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Rainy weather didn't stop Chiefs fans from tailgating in the stadium parking lot.

Weekend slate:

  • Sunday, 1pm ET: Jets at Bills (-6.5); Packers at Vikings (-2.5); Eagles (-5.5) at Washington; Browns at Ravens (-7.5); Colts (-8) at Jaguars; Raiders (-3) at Panthers; Bears at Lions (-3); Seahawks (-2.5) at Falcons; Dolphins at Patriots (-6.5)
  • Sunday, 4pm: Chargers (-3) at Bengals
  • Sunday, 4:25pm: Buccaneers at Saints (-3.5); Cardinals at 49ers (-7)
  • Sunday, 8:20pm: Cowboys (-3) at Rams
  • Monday, 7:10pm: Steelers (-6) at Giants
  • Monday, 10:20pm: Titans (-2) at Broncos
4. 🎾 Azarenka upsets Serena, Osaka downs Brady

Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Victoria Azarenka upset Serena Williams, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, to advance to her first major championship final since 2013 and deny Williams a shot at her record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title.

  • Azarenka will face Naomi Osaka in Saturday's final — a meeting between two-time major champions who have both been ranked No. 1 in the past.
  • Osaka beat Jennifer Brady, 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3, to return to the U.S. Open final for the second time in three years.

Today's men semifinals: Novak Djokovic's early exit provides an opportunity for a young generation of players to emerge from the shadow of the Big Three.

  • 4pm ET: No. 20 Pablo Carreño Busta (Spain) vs. No. 5 Alexander Zverev (Germany)
  • 6pm: No. 3 Daniil Medvedev (Russia) vs. No. 2 Dominic Thiem (Austria)
Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Victory in an empty arena ... Brazil's Bruno Soares and Croatia's Mate Pavić won the U.S. Open men's doubles title, their first Grand Slam win as a team.

5. ⚽️ Young Americans abroad: Pulisic leads the way
Screenshot: @BleacherReport

Christian Pulisic joined Chelsea last season and made an immediate impact. Now, with the 2020-21 season kicking off tomorrow, the young American leads a Blues squad in search of its first league title since 2017, Jeff writes.

The big picture: Pulisic, 21, is just one of many exciting young Americans playing abroad — a hopeful sign for the USMNT, a treat for young players and fans across the nation, and a boon for U.S. networks with European soccer rights.

  • 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Premier League: Cameron Carter-Vickers (D, Tottenham, 22 years old); Antonee Robinson (D, Fulham, 23); Zack Steffen (GK, Manchester City, 25); DeAndre Yedlin (D, Newcastle, 27).
  • 🇩🇪 Bundesliga (Germany): Giovanni Reyna (M, Borussia Dortmund, 17); Tyler Adams (M, RB Leipzig, 21); John Brooks (D, Wolfsburg, 27); Josh Sargent (F, Werder Bremen, 20).
  • 🇮🇹 Serie A (Italy): Weston McKennie (Juventus, M, 22).
  • 🇳🇱 Eredivisie (Netherlands): Sergiño Dest (Ajax, D, 19); Luca de la Torre (Heracles Almelo, M, 22).

Weekend slate: Here are a few key Premier League matchups, as Liverpool begins its first title defense in 30 years (full schedule).

  • Saturday: Arsenal at Fulham (7:30am ET); Leeds at Liverpool (12:30pm)
  • Sunday: Leicester City at West Brom (9am); Everton at Tottenham (11:30am)
  • Monday: Wolves at Sheffield (1pm); Chelsea at Brighton (3:15pm)

Go deeper: Premier League season preview (ESPN)

6. 🏀 Coach Cal's strange streak

John Calipari and Anthony Davis at the 2012 ESPY Awards. Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

John Calipari has coached a veritable who's who of current NBA talent in his 11 years at Kentucky, producing 29 first-round picks — but not a single NBA champion, Jeff writes.

Yes, but: This could be the year his streak ends, as five of the seven remaining teams have at least one of Calipari's ex-Wildcats on their roster.

  • Lakers: Anthony Davis (2011-12)
  • Clippers: Patrick Patterson (2007-10)
  • Nuggets: Jamal Murray (2015-16)
  • Heat: Tyler Herro (2018-19) and Bam Adebayo (2016-17)
  • Celtics: Enes Kanter (*signed with Kentucky in 2010, but was ruled ineligible due to benefits received from his European youth club)

The bottom line: Only a Rockets or Raptors title would keep one of the wildest streaks in basketball alive.

7. Sept. 11, 2001: 🇺🇸 A day we'll never forget

Firefighter Tony James cries while attending the funeral service for New York Fire Department Chaplain Rev. Mychal Judge in 2001. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

19 years ago today, the world changed forever.

  • Watch: "The Man in the Red Bandana" — a tribute to former college lacrosse player and volunteer firefighter Welles Crowther, who died after saving as many as 18 lives that day. Few stories have ever impacted me more.
  • Look: "Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11" — a new exhibition (opened in 2018) at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum that examines the impact of sports in the days, weeks and months after the attacks.
8. The Ocho: 🎮 "Riders Republic"
Courtesy: Ubisoft

Ubisoft just announced a new game called "Riders Republic," which will allow players to jump into a massive, open world playground and take part in sports ranging from skiing to wingsuit flying.

  • Players can compete in races with up to 50 people, all traveling down the mountain at the same time.
  • The game will take place in some of the most picturesque locales in the U.S., and the locations will be stitched together on a map, allowing players to seamlessly travel between them, per SB Nation.

Watch the trailer.

9. 🏈 NFL trivia

Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Since 1970, only three NFL QBs have won 25 games in their first 32 starts. One of them is Patrick Mahomes.

  • Question: Who are the other two?
  • Hint: Collectively, they won three MVPs (1984, 1999, 2001) and one Super Bowl (XXXIV).
10. 💬 Feedback requested

Hello friend. We're thinking about ways to improve this newsletter and want to hear from you. If you have a minute, please email me at kendall@axios.com (or reply to this email) with the following:

  • Your favorite part about Axios Sports
  • One area where we could improve (length, better coverage, etc.)
  • Bonus: Any ideas you have (new sections, formats, etc.)

Thank you! See you back here on Monday.

Kendall Baker

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Can't believe it's been 19 years" Baker

Trivia answer: Dan Marino and Kurt Warner